Part 9 – The Pinocchio Chronicles

Our Battle with

The Alberta Provincial Government – Part 9

The Pinocchio Chronicles

I made a request, under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) in July, 2016. I have just now, received some, but not all, of the information I requested.

This information only confirms what I’ve known from the beginning, that the wild horses are interlopers, pests, to be given no consideration and to be judged unfairly and with extreme prejudice, when making decisions regarding their “management”. Them thars fightin’ words! READ ON!

The need for wild horse management, according to Alberta Environment and Parks (AE&P), is due to the destruction of rangeland, (no proof provided), the destruction of wildlife habitat, (no proof provided), destruction of reforestation, (no proof provided), and finally, public safety, (no proof provided).

Despite AE&P’s assertion that wild horses are damaging rangeland, wildlife habitat, reforestation, and are a danger to the Public, there is a document, now archived, but prepared for AE&P, entitled “Timber Harvesting and Livestock Grazing Effects on Deciduous Communities of the Lower Foothills Subregion”(1). This document was produced to address conflicts between timber harvesting and livestock grazing user groups. Conflict between the two user groups arose from their narrowly focused objectives, and each industry’s tendency to plan and operate in isolation (Nordstrom 1984). It is clearly stated in this report that timber harvesting and cattle grazing damage the rangeland.

I am not against cattle being on Public Lands. I am against cattle ranchers, forestry industries, and any other industry, that has come to think of Public Lands as their private fiefdom, and they are entitled to wipe out anything that stands in their way of making a profit.

Several other interesting and useful documents on AE&P’s website are: Range Plant Community Guides & Stocking Rates(2). I chose 4 general areas in these Community Guides that wild horses might graze. They were; Foothills Natural Regional – Upper and Lower, Boreal Forest Natural Region – Dry Mixedwood, and Parkland Natural Regional – Central Parkland. In the Executive Summary or Abstract of each Subregion, the same sentence appears:

“Despite the importance of many of these communities for livestock grazing, there is very little information on forage production, carrying capacity and how they are influenced by grazing. This lack of information makes it very difficult to develop management prescriptions that address multiple use objections”.

Please have a look at these documents as AE&P continue to blame the wild horses for all the ills on our Public Lands, despite already having proof that timber harvesting and cattle grazing are just two of the user groups, doing the damage.

On May 6, 2015, I had a conversation with Rob Kesseler regarding AE&P’s process of calculating the forage the wild horses consume. For example, horses are considered to be 1.5 AUM (Animal Unit Month). An AUM is the amount of forage needed by an animal unit (AU) grazing for one month. A cow/calf pair is calculated at 1 AUM, despite outweighing and out eating 1 mare/foal. One cow is estimated at 1,000 lbs. and her calf at 250 lbs. Our wildies are stocky critters, but most of the mature horses are well under 1,000 lbs., and sub-adults and foals, much, much less. There is no differentiating between foals, sub-adults or mature horses according to AE&P, and all of the 850 remaining wild horses are calculated at 1.5 AUM each.

1.5 AUM is calculated at 1,800 lbs. of forage per month. AE&P are claiming the wild horses eat 1,800 lbs. of prime pasture, 12 months of the year, each and every year. Again, no consideration is given for poor forage in the winter, nor the fact that the wildies graze the cutblocks, along roadsides, and up in the tree lines, and not only on primary or secondary pasture, that is specifically set aside for the cattle on grazing leases/allotments. Cattle on grazing leases outnumber the wild horses 10/1. Tell me, does anyone else find it incredibly hard to swallow that AE&P simply CANNOT tell anyone how many wild horses are allowed to live free and protected on Public Lands, but year, after year, can come up with the number of cattle to be turned out for grazing?! For more information, please see “Who’s Grazing the 6 Equine Zones” under the Miscellaneous Tab.

Rob Kesseler did concede during the conversation, that 1.5AUM was probably high, but it is obvious that whatever is said during a conversation, or in follow-up emails and letters, is tossed out the window, when it comes to making decisions regarding the wild horses.

Another example of the extreme prejudice used when making decisions regarding our wildies, is the heavily stacked, pro-slaughter, Feral Horse Advisory Committee. The General Public has been asking for the last 3 years, for a fair and balanced Committee, but this request has been flat out denied over and over again. The claims of conflict of interest by the General Public, regarding the Feral Horse Advisory Committee, have been scoffed at by AE&P. AE&P admit the Feral Horse Advisory Committee will play a key role in future decisions regarding the wild horses, but what could a recommendation from a stacked pro-slaughter Committee be, but continued removal. This is irresponsible and unreasonable governance by AE&P, which is completely unacceptable.

I am regularly in touch with AE&P, and have made several good suggestions on how to deal with the wild horses, but the fact of the matter is, AE&P don’t seem to be interested in finding common ground to work with the General Public. The Government’s intent appears to be, to reduce their numbers to such a low point, the wild horses will eventually disappear. At least one Government employee wants the numbers in the Sundre Zone to be reduced to 250 down from 543. As the Sundre Zone has the largest concentration of horses, and the overall total population of all 6 Equine Zones is at 851, this would, without a doubt, put the viability of the remaining horses in extreme jeopardy.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission Equid Specialist Groups states, that in order to have a population size sufficient to ensure genetic diversity, a minimum size population of 2,500 individuals be maintained. Historically, western Canada supported a wild horse population between 10,000-20,000 individuals. Further reduction of our current population of 851, through roundups and darting with PZP, will cause the wild horses to be driven into extinction, despite the horses having evolved here originally.

Many of you may not be aware, that the foal count for 2016 was 1 in Elbow River, 2 in the Ghost, 7 in Sundre and 0 in Clearwater, Nordegg and Brazeau, for a total foal count of 10. Shocking, isn’t it!! Based on these numbers, it is extremely hard to believe there is/was a population explosion of wild horses, necessitating their management with PZP darting, and captures. If the horse count for 2017 is more than 861, it will show just how many domestic horses are being turned loose on Public Lands, an issue AE&P refuse to deal with.

Let’s not forget Wild Horses of Alberta Society’s (WHOAS) role in this. To date, WHOAS has darted 73 mares, all in the Sundre Zone. None of those mares will produce foals for the next 2-3 years. If AE&P reduce the Sundre herd to 250, and most of the remaining mares cannot produce foals for 2-3 years, what do you think will happen? It is completely irresponsible of WHOAS to continue to dart an increasing number of mares with PZP, without first ensuring the horses are protected from future captures and especially, to proceed with an expanded darting program, without first obtaining a total number of wild horses allowed to remain in the 6 Equine Zones, from AE&P. The PZP Darting Program must stop. If you are making contributions to WHOAS, please specify it is not to go to the PZP Program. If WHOAS will not allow you to specify where your contribution goes, please redirect your donation to a horse rescue or sanctuary.

Many of you are aware that AE&P are currently working on a long term management strategy for the wildies. I have absolutely no faith, based on my dealings with AE&P over the last 3 years, that this will be good news for the wild horses. The Alberta Government is also reworking its’ Horse Capture Regulation, which may also cause changes to the Stray Animal Act, the two pieces of legislation that currently govern our wild horses. Again, I don’t believe these pending changes will be good news for the horses. The only two options on the table for the wild horses are, decreasing their numbers through captures, and decreasing their numbers through PZP. If the only plan is to decrease, it is not management, but elimination. There are far more than just two options for the wild horses, but with a stacked pro-slaughter Advisory Committee recommending constant removal, and a biased Government giving precedence to commercial entities, no other options are being looked at.

How arrogant is it, that the Alberta Government thinks it is entitled to drive a species into extinction, in favor of commercial user groups. Sadly, this is not the first time the Government has done this.

AE&P continue to reject any science provided to it showing the wild horses are not damaging the rangeland. At the same time, AE&P has never provided any proof itself, peer reviewed or otherwise, to back up its’ own unfounded, prejudiced opinion, and wrongly continue to remove the wild horses from Public Lands. I realized very early on, that this is not about science, it is entirely political.

Please continue to write, email and telephone AE&P and let them know where you stand on their wild horse policy decisions. AE&P claim they make these decisions based on sound management practices, (cough, cough, sputter, sputter), and not according to public opinion, but bad PR goes a long way, and they know it! Keep the pressure on!

Our wildies have been here for centuries. Long before Canada was formed in 1867, and long before Alberta was made a Province in 1905. They belong, and have earned their rightful place on our Public Lands, in numbers sufficient to support a healthy and viable population. Please see “The Aboriginal North American Horse”(3).

On a positive note, the process of hiring a law firm has begun, in order to obtain the actual Opinion(s) that were necessary to remove the wild horses from Public Lands. I expect the Alberta Government will be held accountable for any wrong doing. I will keep you posted on any proof found, and I will forward that information to the media, but none of this is going to happen overnight. In the meantime, keep fighting for our wildies. We are all they have.

(1) Timber Harvesting and Livestock Grazing Effects (read only document);

(2) Range Plant Community Guides & Stocking Rates;

(3) The Aboriginal North American Horse

Photo Credit: Wayne Chicoine

February 2, 2017